Most people don’t think about personal branding until they’re suddenly told, “Shoot me your bio over e-mail.” Then they scramble for the next hour pulling something together.
Your professional bio is, without a doubt, the most important copy you’ll ever write about yourself. It’s the first introduction to what you do and who you are.
Done properly, a well-written bio can open doors and propel your career. It may appear as a social media profile, blog post, personal or business Website, or part of a package for speaking engagements or training materials. Prepare several versions, ranging from a few lines to no more than four paragraphs.
Reveal Who You Are
In addition to stating the obvious—name, current position, company, education, professional accomplishments and awards, contact information as appropriate, and the like—make your bio stand out. Let’s take a financial planner as an example. They all include CFP (Certified Financial Planner) and other alphabet soup after their names. But what makes them different? They all say they’ll help you plan for your future; save for your children’s education; build a diversified portfolio; blah, blah, blah.
A strong bio not only establishes your experience and qualifications, it shows you have a pulse and a personality. Use a professional tone to represent you from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but also hint at who you are from 6 to 10 p.m.
Choose a Voice
It is likely that your bio will be used to engage different audiences, in different places, in different contexts. Adapt it to fit the occasion. Then the question arises whether to use first or third person.
When you write in the first person, you’re breaking the fourth wall, as it’s called in the theater. You’re speaking directly to the audience. Write in the first person when introducing yourself. Otherwise, write in the third person, so it sounds as if someone else is giving you accolades. Look at any book cover, and you’ll notice the bio is written in the third person, even though the author probably wrote it.
First person: I grew up in France and speak English, French, and Spanish.
Third person: John grew up in France and speaks English, French, and Spanish.
There’s a fine balance between sharing accomplishments and sounding like a windbag. Share your accomplishments authentically and humbly.
Boastful: Brooke received a Ph.D. from Harvard.
Humble: While completing her doctoral program at Harvard, Brooke was involved in research that [describe the value or outcome]. She’s grateful to her colleagues who shared in the project’s success.
Show You Have a Sense of Humor
Let people know they won’t find you boring. You can do that by adding a bit of quirkiness (as long as it’s not offensive or unprofessional). Too many professional bios are bland, stiff, formal, stodgy, plodding, and downright boring. Consider the following:
Bland: Bob grew up in New York City and moved to Boston with his wife and two boys in the late 1990s.
Humorous but professional: Having grown up in New York City, Bob still bears traces of his accent, which is very apparent when he says the word, “coffee” (or as he pronounces it, cough-ee). He stayed in New York with his wife and two boys until he moved to Boston in the late 1990s.
Bland: Bob has been published in the following journals: [list]
Humorous but professional: One day, Bob hopes to write the great American novel, but until then, he’s had articles published in: [list]
Share Interesting Details
What makes you special and interesting? People who share the same interests or backgrounds identify with each other. Are you an avid boater or golfer? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Were you raised in another country? What projects are you working on professionally or personally? What charitable organizations are you involved with? Do you have an interesting or unique hobby?
Finally, Avoid Biohazards
- Dates: Don’t anchor yourself to dates unless they’re significant. Ageism (too old or too young) runs rampant in certain industries.
- Wordiness: Less is more. Eliminate anything that doesn’t add value. For example, instead of writing, “I attended the conference in order to learn…,” write “I attended the conference to learn…”
- Hyperbole: Avoid exaggerated phrases such as “the greatest salesperson of my generation,” “amazing manager,” “the leading authority on…”
- Lingo bingo: Use universal, conversational terms anyone can understand. You can tweak the wording for specific audiences.
- Formal language: Write in a conversational tone, as you would speak. Sentences may contain contractions (it’s instead of it is). They may begin with and, but, and yet.
- TMI: Your audience isn’t interested in knowing your childhood nickname, parents’ occupations, or favorite color. Save them for your memoir.
- False statements: Never lie about accomplishments, awards, titles, or positions. Besides the obvious moral issue, false claims are easy to disprove in this digital age. The potential fallout from getting caught far outweighs potential benefits. You get the idea.